By: George Gurdjieff
March 31, 2023

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (dictated 1924–1927, and thus a work of Radium Age proto-sf, although it wouldn’t see publication until after the author’s death in 1949) is the first section of a never-completed magnum opus to be titled All and Everything. Gurdjieff would later explain that through this work he intended “to destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world.” HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize a selected excerpt from Beelzebub’s Tales here at HILOBROW.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10.


CHAPTER V: The system of Archangel Hariton

“Shortly afterward, again under the supervision of the Great Archangel Adossia, practical tests open to all were made with this new invention, which was later to become so famous.

“The new system was unanimously acknowledged to be the best, and soon
it was adopted for service throughout the Universe, gradually superseding all previous systems.

“At the present time this system of the Great Angel, now Archangel, Hariton is in use everywhere. The ship on which we are now flying is based on the same principles, and its construction is similar to that of all ships built according to this system. It is not very complicated.

“The whole of this great invention consists of a single ‘cylinder’ shaped like an ordinary barrel.

“The secret of this cylinder lies in the disposition of the materials of which its inner walls are composed.

“These materials are isolated from each other by means of ‘amber’ and, owing to their arrangement in a certain order, have the property of acting on any cosmic gaseous substance entering the space they enclose — whether ‘atmosphere,’ ‘air,’ ‘ether,’ or any other combination of homogeneous cosmic elements — causing it immediately to expand within the cylinder.

“The bottom of this ‘cylinder-barrel’ is hermetically sealed, but the lid, although it can also be tightly closed, is hinged in such a way that on pressure from within it opens, and then shuts again.

“So, Your Right Reverence, if this cylinder-barrel is filled with atmosphere, air, or any other such substance, the action of its walls causes these substances to expand to such an extent that the interior becomes too small to hold them.

“Striving to find an outlet from this constricted interior, they naturally press against the lid of the cylinder-barrel, which opens on its hinges and allows these expanded substances to escape, and then immediately closes again. Since in general Nature abhors a vacuum, as soon as the expanded gaseous substances are released, the cylinder-barrel is again filled up with fresh substances from outside, and they in their turn undergo the same process, and so on without end Thus the substances are always being changed, and the lid of the cylinder-barrel alternately opens and shuts.

“Fixed to this lid is a very simple ‘lever,’ operated by the movement of the lid, which sets in motion some also very simple ‘cogwheels,’ and these in turn revolve fans attached to the sides and stern of the ship itself.

“Thus, Your Right Reverence, in spaces where there is no resistance, contemporary ships like ours simply fall toward the nearest stability, but where there are any cosmic substances that offer resistance, it is these substances, no matter what their density, that are acted upon by the cylinder and enable the ship to move in any desired direction.

“It is interesting to note that the denser the substance in any given part of the Universe, the better the charging and discharging of the cylinder-barrel proceed, and in consequence, of course, the rate of movement of the levers is accelerated.

“Nevertheless, I repeat, a region without atmosphere, that is, a space containing only ‘world ethernokrilno,’ is the best for contemporary ships as it was for earlier ones, because it offers no resistance at all, and the law of falling can therefore be employed to the full with no need for the work of the cylinder.

“Furthermore, contemporary ships have the advantage that in atmosphereless spaces they can be given an impetus in any direction, and can fall wherever intended without the complicated manipulations necessary in ships of the system of Saint Venoma.

“In short, Your Right Reverence, both in convenience and simplicity, contemporary ships are beyond comparison with the earlier ones, which were often exceedingly complicated and at the same time had none of the possibilities of the ships we use now.”


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master”.